An Oklahoma state judge has ordered U.S. drug manufacturer Johnson & Johnson to pay $572 million in damages to the state for fueling its opioid crisis.
Addiction and overdoses of the synthetic painkillers have killed more than 10,000 Oklahoma residents since 2000, lawyers argued, asking for a record $17 billion in damages.
“The opioid crisis has ravaged the state of Oklahoma. It must be abated immediately,” Judge Thad Balkman said before announcing his verdict.
Johnson & Johnson is the first company to be put on trial for what the state said was a “cynical, deceitful multibillion-dollar brainwashing campaign.” The state said J&J marketed opioids as a “magic drug” to doctors, caregivers and other prescribers.
Attorneys cited Oklahoma’s “public nuisance” law, which is intended to protect the public from people and companies looking to harm others.
J&J’s lawyers argued the company’s claims about its painkillers are backed by science. They pointed out that J&J’s products make up a tiny fraction of opioids prescribed in Oklahoma and less than 1% of all those used across the country.
J&J said it will appeal the ruling. The company said Oklahoma’s state attorneys used a “radical” interpretation of the public nuisance law.
Johnson & Johnson was one of three pharmaceutical houses sued by Oklahoma, but the only one to come to trial.
The state made multimillion-dollar settlements with Perdue Pharma and Israeli-owned Teva Pharmaceuticals Industries earlier this year.
The Trump administration has declared opioid addiction a national health crisis.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, opioids have killed nearly 400,000 people over the last 20 years. (VOA)